Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: Particles of Faith, by Stacy A. Trasancos

One challenge Christians face, particularly millennials, is the apparent challenge Science poses to articles of faith. To be brutally blunt, most of this appearance of challenge stems from the inability of believers and nonbelievers alike to respect the limits of both Science and Religion. An impoverished “progressive” education, neglecting even the most rudimentary instruction in philosophy and leading to rampant neo-philistinism, contributes heavily to the confusion. Many Catholics can benefit from a guide that clarifies those limits and defangs the “hermeneutic of conflict” which decrees the challenge. This is what Stacy A. Trasancos, Ph.D., M.A., offers us in Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2016; $15.95).

Walking in “No-Man’s Land”

Particles of Faith is not an apologetical work. That’s to say, Dr. Trasancos doesn’t explicitly seek to make converts of atheists, but rather to steer Catholics along a path that will help them comprehend the current state of the sciences that form the “no-man’s land” between belief and unbelief. To this task, she brings an impressive array of education and experience — industrial chemist, theologian, teacher, and mother of seven.

One small complaint: every once in a while, the chemistry talk goes beyond the average layman’s comprehension despite Dr. Trasancos’ obvious attempt to simplify it. I say this as one whose last physical-science course was twenty-three years ago (for what it’s worth, it was organic chemistry, and I got a 4.0). But that’s what Google’s for, right? [Full disclosure: Stacy is not only a friend but the co-publisher and editor emeritus at Catholic Stand; she and Tito Edwards brought me on board there.]

The book is set up in three parts. Part I, “Science in the Light of Faith”, discusses the limitations of science and its necessarily transient state. Part II, “Questions in the Physical Sciences”, delves into the “Big Bang” theory, the relationship of atoms to reality, and the question of whether quantum mechanics explains free will. Part III, “Questions in the Biological Sciences”, discusses evolution from three different angles; particularly useful is the discussion of polygenism versus monogenism (that is, whether humans evolved from a single Adam-and-Eve pair or from a group of independently-evolved individuals).

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Twin Towers of Siloam

The one memory that will stay with me, when all other memories of September 11, 2001 have faded, is how obscenely beautiful the weather was. There really should have been more portents. Fierce, fiery warriors battling in the clouds. Graves yawning and yielding up their dead. At least a two-headed cow, or the ghost of William McKinley.

But no, the New York sky was barely touched with clouds when the Twin Towers  crumbled to the ground. Just as clear was the Arlington, Virginia sky as American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the western side of the Pentagon, and over Stoney Creek Township, Pennsylvania, as the hijackers of United 93 plowed their Boeing 757 into the ground to prevent the passengers from taking over. And it was just as beautiful in Omaha, Nebraska, where I listened to my cab’s FM radio in horror, knowing exactly why Peter Jennings quietly said, “Oh, my God,” as soon as he said it. Satan had apparently decided not to overdo it.

The Loss of Faith

Inevitably, anniversaries such as this will produce analyses in gross lots, rewriting as growing out of the evil stem of the 9/11 attacks trends that were already in place the day before. We need no “truther” conspiracy theories to explain the nadir of our trust in our government; it had been declining for three decades and more. Anti-Moslem sentiment didn’t begin with the collapse of the World Trade Center; it was present during the OPEC oil crisis in the late 1970s, a natural outgrowth of American nativism. We don’t need al-Qaida to explain our interventionism; it was already implicit in complaints that Operation Desert Storm didn’t “finish the job” by going to Baghdad and ousting Saddam Hussein.

Of course we became more afraid. For the sake of security, we permitted the federal government unprecedented powers of investigation and almost casually dispensed with habeas corpus rights for suspected terrorists. In the meantime, we created a new Cabinet-level department whose name carries perhaps-unintended echoes of totalitarian police states. And we also built a cheap, absurd wall along our border with Mexico, as we flailed around to find solutions that would keep terrorists out without going so far as to completely imprison ourselves or stop tourists and imports from coming.

I can’t help but think, though, that in the last fifteen years we became more aware of the fact that America is rotting from within, that both the dream and the reality of America have been corrupted. That’s a broad and vague charge, one not easily specified or documented. However, as much as has been written about the loss of faith in God, I believe that we’ve lost faith in everything — faith in ourselves, in each other, in our social institutions, in our government, in our founding principles.